Amateurs Shine at the US Dressage Finals

Monday, November 12, 2018
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With six arenas of top dressage competition and championship festivities lasting well into the night, the Kentucky Horse Park was the place to be on Saturday as 12 new champions were crowned at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, being held November 8-11 in Lexington, KY.

Heart of Gold Earns Fabiola the First Level Adult Amateur Championship
As an orthopedic surgeon, it would be stating the obvious to say that Bethany Gallagher of Nashville, Tenn. (Region 2) has a demanding career. But ultimately finding a way to balance both work and riding turned into a winning formula as Gallagher earned the First Level Adult Amateur Championship over more than 30 rivals with 72.794% earned aboard her seven-year-old Hanoverian mare Fabiola.

“My mare was awesome today, she tried so hard to do her best and did everything I asked. She has a heart of gold and is a worker bee every day. I wanted to come back to the Finals because my horse deserves this chance to show off,” Gallagher explained. “As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that I can’t do it all, so I finally took the leap and my horse is now with my trainer more consistently which has been really good for me. I can go and ride and advance in my skills, and she stays in work and learning even when my cases go late and clinic goes long. It’s also nice because you take a lot of work home with you, and this way I can just relax when I ride her. It’s just easier and that’s been really good for me.”

Melissa Palmer of Purcellville, Va. (Region 1) was also pleased with her six-year-old Oldenburg mare Reagan 10 (Belissimo M x Relaunch by San Amour) as the pair earned the Reserve Championship with 71.814%. “I had a tough ride yesterday with the weather, so I rode a little conservatively today but I was very happy with how she stayed with me,” Palmer noted. “I bought her when she was just coming three, and the first time I sat on her was on a lunge line when she was only four days under saddle. She then competed in Europe before bringing her home so she has quite a bit of experience for her age, but we’re still developing our partnership together.”

Special Journey Earns Elgart Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Title
When Mindy Elgart of Philadelphia, Pa. (Region 1) first saw her horse Spaniard (Sinatra Song x Russian Roulette by Rouletto, bred in the U.S. by High Point Hanoverians), he was just a tiny foal featured in an e-mail. Little did she know that six years later, the 17-hand Oldenburg gelding would help her win a national title in the Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship with a score of 70.922% at the US Dressage Finals.

“I bought Spaniard when he was just four months old,” Elgart remembered. “I first saw a photo of him in an email from the breeder, so we went there to look at several babies including him. He was very plain, but I just had to have him. So I’ve had him since he was a little guy, but he’s not so little anymore!”

Elgart credits the close relationship nurtured with Spaniard over the years with helping them win their first national championship. “He’s so big that he’s been a little slow to develop – I started him later and it’s definitely been a journey to bring him along, and not always an easy one,” she explained. “But he’s as sweet as can be and I always feel safe with him, and I think there’s a special bond that develops when you have them from the time they’re that young. He seemed very relaxed today, and I think he really likes the music. I felt like I could go for it and ask for everything, and he seemed to be showing off and having fun.”

Region 8’s Alexsandra Krossen of Basking Ridge, N.J. also has a longtime association with Nicene (Nimbus x Pamela by Portofino, owned and bred in the U.S. by Heather Mason). She was there when the now six-year-old Oldenburg mare was born, and on Saturday earned a Reserve Championship at the Finals with 69.533%. “She was great today. We’ve choreographed her freestyle to suit her strengths,” said Krossen. “She was the first foal I ever saw born, but I never thought I’d ride her because she was not an easy baby. She is a chestnut mare in every sense of the word. But she is also a worker when you ride her and usually doesn’t put a foot wrong.”

Alice Tarjan Proves to Be Unbeatable in Third Level Adult Amateur Championship
To say that Alice Tarjan of Oldwick, N.J. (Region 1) has a barn full of equine talent would be an understatement. After winning two national titles with Candescent earlier in the week, Tarjan braved the cold in the Stonelea Arena as part of a field of almost 30 top horses and riders from across the country in the Third Level Adult Amateur Championship. Turns out, the only one Tarjan had to beat was herself as she earned both Champion (75.043%) and Reserve Champion (74.017%) honors with her seven-year-old Oldenburg mare Donatella M (Furstenball x Dorina by Jazz Time) and six-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion Harvest (Connaisseur x Naomi by Ulft), respectively.

“Here’s a funny story: I received a new helmet after winning yesterday’s class with Candescent, and I asked the representative if it had good luck, and she said ‘yes it does’, so I wore it today and clearly it worked,” Tarjan laughed. “I had a bit of any eventful start with Donatella this morning because busy warmup areas are hard for her to deal with, and then she took offense to a Kentucky Horse Park police horse and got so upset she was rearing in the warmup. But then once she was in the ring she was fine. Harvest is such an incredibly good boy and very different from Donatella. He’s like a computer: whatever you put in is what you get out. There’s nothing lost in translation. He’s so straightforward – you just kick, he grunts, and off he goes.”

Tarjan admitted that choosing to compete at the Finals in the Third Level division was a bit unusual for her, even though the venture proved successful. “I usually concentrate on the young horse classes because I like to focus more on their development and gaits as opposed to being too technical,” she explained. “When I look for a horse, I have a certain type and presence that I like, and I know it when I see it. Then I enjoy teaching them how to show off the brilliance that’s inside of them, and I do it by focusing on bringing out movement, not necessarily dwelling on correctness of technique. It may be a little different way of approaching things, but it works for me.”

An Emotional Victory for Eye Candy in Fourth Level Adult Amateur Freestyle
All equestrians know that life with horses can be an emotional roller coaster, and Amy Gimbel of Tewksbury, N.J. (Region 8) is no exception. “With all the ups come some pretty big downs,” said Gimbel, who owns the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Eye Candy (UB-40 x Wednesday by Weltmeyer, bred in the U.S. by Judy Barrett). “After Regionals two years ago, I was looking forward to coming back to the Finals after doing so well in both 2014 and 2015. But one day she came in from the field and wasn’t quite right. What we thought was cellulitis ended up being a much bigger issue with a serious injury to her foot. We spent the winter hand walking and she was laid up for eight months. It took so much time and patience, all the while wondering if she’d ever be able to come back. But here we are finally, and I feel SO lucky to be here.”

This week the pair have been making up for lost time in Lexington, earning Reserve Championship honors in Friday’s Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship, and then improving upon that performance the next day to claim the Fourth Level Freestyle Adult Amateur Championship with 71.467%. “She can be a little sassy and sometimes I never know where that sass will come out, so we built our freestyle to allow for some flexibility,” Gimbel laughed. “But despite it being unbelievably cold, Candy was a little more relaxed today and we were both very focused, and we were able to stick to our choreography.”

Also pleased with her performance was Reserve Champion Michelle Conrad of Northville, Mich. (Region 2) and her 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Cadiz (Vivaldi x Sylvana by Amsterdam), scoring 71.133%. “I was so happy with him. We had a couple of mistakes, but he was so attentive and good off the aids,” said Conrad. “Yes it was chilly out, but the sun was shining and we had a blast. My horse looks at life like a big party so our freestyle features ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams and it definitely suits him. I want to give a special shout-out to all the volunteers working out there in the cold so that we can have this opportunity to compete. It’s definitely appreciated by all of us.”

Hannah Hewitt Now Two-For-Two, Wins Intermediate I Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship
Finals first-timer Hannah Hewitt of Atlanta, Ga. (Region 3) is now two-for-two at the Intermediate I level after winning Friday’s Adult Amateur Championship class followed by Saturday’s Intermediate I Adult Amateur Freestyle aboard Tammy Pearson’s eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Fidens (Tango x Bliss by United). The pair ran away with the win by earning top scores under all three judges for 75.050%.
“I feel like Fidens and I are getting so much stronger as a partnership, and it’s just culminating here at the Finals,” Hewitt said. “I love our freestyle, and we hit our music marks with our tempi’s right off the bat on the centerline, plus I was happy with the overall fluidity and rhythm of our test.”

Hewitt credits her ongoing participation in national dressage programs for helping to set her and Fidens up for success. “I competed in Juniors/Young Riders and the Brentina Cup on my former horse, and those programs helped me develop as a rider and I feel like set me up really well to compete at a show like this,” she explained. “I also did the young and developing horse programs with Fidens, which I also think have helped keep us on a great path for the future.”

Courtney O’Brien of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (Region 3) was also thrilled with her ride aboard her 11-year-old Andalusian gelding Duque Top (Almirante XXXV x Duquesa XLIII by Faraon X), which earned the pair a Reserve Championship with 71.558%. “This is my third trip to the Finals but the first time getting a ribbon, so I’m very excited and proud of my horse,” she noted. “I’ve never done freestyles before either so this is our first year trying it. I love our music which is Cool Cat jazz, and my trainer purposely designed difficult choreography for me, but I like the challenge!”

Janne Rumbough Braves the Cold to Earn Grand Prix Adult Amateur Freestyle Victory
Coming to the US Dressage Finals created a bit of a temperature shock for Janne Rumbough of Palm Beach, Fla. (Region 3) and her 15-year-old PRE gelding Armas Zumbel (Escarzo x Delicia VI by Relampago II). But the pair braved the chilly weather to claim the Calaveras County Perpetual Trophy (presented by Olva Stewart Pharo) in the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship with a score of 64.467%.

“He was cold and tense because we came from south Florida and I just clipped him, so he was a bit reluctant starting the test,” said the 74-year-old Rumbough. “I had to really try to make up for our rough start, but I know my music and my horse really well, so could make adjustments and work to earn back some points. Otherwise I was very proud of him to be able to come from 95 degrees at home to handle the cold here. Four years ago, I won the same title with my homebred horse Junior, so it is very special for me to come back and win it again with another horse. I love coming here and seeing people from all over the country – it’s a very special show where everyone is so friendly. We’re all winners just by being here.”

Kristin Herzing of Harrisburg, Pa. (Region 1) and her Hanoverian gelding Gentleman (Grusus x Rumpelstilzchen by Raphael, bred in the U.S. by Kathryn and Jeffrey Nesbit) earned their second Reserve Championship in as many days with 63.142%. “He was a little grumpy today starting out, but we’ve been together so long, we’re like an old married couple – we have our little spats but always go home together,” Herzing chuckled. “He felt pretty solid but was a little opinionated in his tempi changes – he put the ‘free’ in freestyle. I try to make it a goal to come to Finals every year, and we’ve gotten better and better each time. I love the camaraderie and the opportunity to ride with such wonderful riders who push you to be better.”

Watch archived streaming videos Championship classes on the USEF Network HERE, as well as Facebook Live videos of press conferences on the USDF Facebook page HERE. Championship competition concludes Sunday – follow the action through updates on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, as well as watch live online streaming on the USEF Network at this link: To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, review day sheets and results, and read daily news releases, visit the official event website at